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Biden Administration Has Ambitious Spending Plan For Domestic Agenda


President Biden spent last night's address to Congress urging Americans to compete less against each other and compete more against the world. He invoked the rise of China and other undemocratic governments as he promoted new federal investments in energy and research, as well as child care and education.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To win that competition for the future, in my view, we also need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families and our children.

INSKEEP: The president wants to pay for all this by raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.

The director of the president's Domestic Policy Council is on the line, Ambassador Susan Rice, who has that title from previous service as a diplomat in the past. Ambassador, welcome back to the program.

SUSAN RICE: Great to be with you, Steve. Good morning.

INSKEEP: The president promoted subsidies for child care and early education. Let's start with that. If that part becomes law, how does life change for the average family with kids?

RICE: Well, Steve, the president, last night, laid out a plan to provide four additional years of free education to every American, arguing that it's no longer sufficient in the 21st century to simply provide K-12 education on a free basis. The necessity is to start with two additional years of preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as to provide the opportunity for people to go to community college for two years for free so that we have the skills and the preparation and our kids have the foundations to be the best they can be. That's critical, not only for the benefit of all of our children of all backgrounds in this country, but it's, as the president said, it's necessary if we're going to continue to innovate, to lead and to be the most prosperous and competitive country that we can be.

INSKEEP: On the child care part, do child care providers get the federal subsidies, or do individuals get it? One way or another, people are supposed to have their costs held down.

RICE: So this is a program in the American Families Plan to provide individuals with the ability to have affordable child care for their children. So the president laid out a two-part program on child care. In the first instance, if you have a kid between the age of zero and 5 years old and you are a lower-middle-income American, there will be subsidies to enable you to send your child to child care without having to pay more than 7% of your income. On the other hand, if you have a kid up to the age of 13, you could also take advantage of an extended tax credit, the child and dependent care tax credit, that would enable you, depending on your income, to get up to $4,000 annually for one child and up to $8,000 annually for two or more children.

INSKEEP: Let me...

RICE: So this is...

INSKEEP: Forgive me, Ambassador. Let me ask you about another aspect of this that you mentioned. You said free community college for two years. That obviously would be a big deal for a lot of students over time. But the president has not yet proposed student loan forgiveness in a big way. Why not?

RICE: Well, student loan forgiveness is something that the president has said that he wants to work with Congress to accomplish. He's talked about public service loan forgiveness. He's talked about $10,000 for every student who has debt across the board, working legislatively. But, Steve, in his proposal that he laid out last night, he talked about not only two years of free community college, which is vitally important for skill building, as well as providing a platform to four-year colleges, but he also said that he would dramatically increase the amount of the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant, as you know, is a vitally important program that supports low- and middle-income students in two- and four-year colleges. He'll increase the Pell Grant by over 20% and also lower the cost of those attending minority-serving institutions - historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, et cetera.

So this is a broad base from early childhood to higher education plan to enable all Americans, whatever their income, to be able to access education, which is a ladder, as you know, to jobs and to prosperity.


Let me ask a big-picture question here. Of course, the Republican response came from Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, and he complained of this as a kind of further growth of government. He had a phrase about the government getting in the middle of your life from cradle to college. Are you prepared to say yes, actually, we own that. The Biden administration is sharply expanding the role of government, and that's because we think it's necessary.

RICE: Well, we do think government has an important role to play in supporting research and development, in supporting job creation, in helping us transform into an economy that defeats climate change and creates, you know, thousands and millions of new jobs. So yes, there is a role for government. But to say that we're getting the government in your business from cradle to college is misleading any more than it is to say that public education from K-12 gets government in your business. It's the foundation upon which our whole system is structured, the public education system. We're simply talking about building two years on either end of that system for two years of pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and two years or more of college.

INSKEEP: OK. Let me ask another question along those lines, though. Of course, you are financing this - proposing to finance it with higher taxes on corporations, higher taxes on wealthy individuals. And the president made a point last night of observing how much money existing billionaires made even during the pandemic. This is described as attacking inequality. It once was described as a redistribution of wealth, which is an unpopular term now. Will you own that - part of what's happening here is that you want to make society more economically equal?

RICE: Steve, what we want to do is ensure that all Americans pay their fair share. And we have now a system and a structure where the wealthiest Americans are able to pay substantially less than working Americans for their income. What the president said was, you know, first of all, nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will see their taxes go up. That is a critical commitment that the president has made. Nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will see their taxes go up. But if you're in that top three-tenths of 1% of Americans, the very richest, who may not pay the same in capital gains as they pay for salary earned, then he's saying, as actually Ronald Reagan did, we're going to equalize that. If you get your income through - you know, through dividends or other forms that are not wages, why shouldn't you pay the same amount on that income as a working American pays on their wages?


INSKEEP: Ultimately, should there...

RICE: And yes, bigger corporations should pay their fair share because many of them have found it easy not to pay federal taxes.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, ultimately, should there be just a narrower gap between the salary of the CEO and the lowest-paid employee?

RICE: I think - look, nobody is against wealth. We're all for job creation and wealth creation. We just want it to be something that is accessible to everybody.

INSKEEP: Susan Rice, director of the president's Domestic Policy Council.

Ambassador, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you.

RICE: Great to talk to you, Steve. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.